Organic & Fairtrade- Do We Actually Know What It Means?


Organic and Fairtrade have become buzzwords in the food industry as more consumers become more socially conscious. According to the Organic Trade Association, sale of organic products increased 11.5% to $35.1 billion in 2013 and was expected to grow another 12% last year (Stampler, 2014). According to the Fairtrade Foundation, sale of Fairtrade products increased 27% to $4.8 billion in 2010 with growth rates projected to continue rising (Fairtrade Foundation, 2011).

This growth is a product of increased availability and new consumers. Organic products used to be limited to specialty upscale retailers like Whole Foods and only purchased by a small subset of the population. However, organic products have now become mainstream. Now that ordinary retailers like Walmart are carrying organic products, their availability has drastically increased for the typical consumer (Stampler). Eighty percent of parents report they sometimes buy organic and forty percent of all families have become new consumers in the organic food market (PR Newswire, 2013). “Consistent with findings from previous studies, nearly half (48 percent) of those who purchase organic foods said they do so because they are ‘healthier for me and my children.’ “ (PR Newswire). Consumers purchase organic products because they consider them healthier, but do they know why? Do these consumers actually know what being organic means?

The video above is a great introduction to what it means to be organic – a product grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides and no genetically modified organisms. Organic farming produces products that follow these guidelines and aims to make as little of impact on the environment as possible at each stage of the farming process. Organic products are healthier for both the environment and us because they don’t contain the fertilizers, growth hormones and other harsh chemicals that normal products do.

Organic products differ on the environmental practices involved in farming; whereas Fairtrade products differ on the labor practices involved in producing the products. Products that are labeled as fair trade are produced by organizations that use fair labor practices including no forced or exploitive labor, fair prices and wages, safe working conditions and reasonable work hours (Martin, 2015). Fairtrade works to establish long-term direct trade relationships, so that disadvantaged areas can build sustainable businesses to positively influence the community (Martin).

Both Fairtrade and Organic products have seen rapid growth in the last few years because consumers are becoming more socially conscious. One study that examined why consumers are choosing these types of products found that consumers found food of ethical origin to taste better because of moral satisfaction – the belief that they were doing something good for themselves, others and the world (Bratanova et. al, 2014). Consumers know they are doing something they should morally, when they see the Organic or Fairtrade seals, but I’m not convinced they are entirely sure what the seals signify. Some researchers argue that the market for these products grew so fast that there is no way all of the new consumers knew exactly what being organic actually means (Sikavica & Pozner, 2013). “If they had understood the meaning of “organic,” the study concluded, there would be a larger public outcry for stricter organic standards” (Sikavica & Pozner).

I don’t think consumers know exactly what these terms because although I hate to admit it, I am one of those consumers. I know organic products are healthier for me, but I didn’t know what it meant for farming practices and its impact on the environment. I know Fairtrade companies used more direct trade relationships with the producers, but I didn’t know what it meant for labor practices and the disadvantaged communities in which these organizations exist. In recognizing my own consumer behavior and lack of knowledge, I wanted to see if other consumers, otherwise known as my roommates, had similar patterns when it comes to purchasing chocolate. I believe that my friends will rate the same exact chocolate higher if they are told it is organic and fair trade as compared to describing their practices that make them an organic or Fairtrade organization.


            In order to test my hypothesis, I organized a chocolate tasting with 3 of my roommates. They each tasted the chocolates separately, so that no one would be influenced by the others’ responses. Each friend was told that prior to tasting each chocolate, I would give them a short description of the company that produces the chocolate bar in order to help them differentiate between the six tastings without influencing their description of the taste and flavor. What my friends didn’t know was that rather than having six different chocolates, they would be tasting the same three chocolates twice – an organic chocolate by Francois Pralus, a Fairtrade chocolate from Scharffen Berger and a chocolate by Nirvana that is both organic and Fairtrade. The chocolates were taken out of the wrappers and divided into six plastic bags, so that my friends assumed they were six different types of chocolate. All of these chocolates contained between 72% and 78% cacao, which made it more difficult to differentiate between the different types.

One by one, I described the chocolates and had my friends try a small square. Below are the descriptions I used along with a photo of the corresponding chocolate bar in the exact order in which I presented them to my friends.

Francois Pralus

This is an all-organic chocolate bar from Madagascar. It contains 75% cacao.


This bar is made from cacao that was grown on a farm that doesn’t use pesticides and justly compensates workers. It contains 72% cacao.

Francois Pralus

This bar contains 75% cacao that comes from criollo trees grown without pesticides or GMOS.


This bean to bar chocolate is 78% cacao and is Fairtrade certified.


This bar made in Belgium is both organic and Fairtrade. It contains 72% cacao.


The cacao in this 78% chocolate bar is made from a cacao farm in Peru that pays workers fair wages.

After they tried each chocolate I asked them four questions.

  • On a scale from 1 to 5, how much do you like this chocolate?
  • On a scale from 1 to 5, how likely are you to buy this chocolate?
  • What do you like about this chocolate?
  • What don’t you like about this chocolate?

Following the tastings, I asked my friends to rank all six chocolates. Once they had finalized their preferences I debriefed each friend about the chocolates they had tasted, what I was looking for and my hypothesis about consumer behavior regarding organic and Fairtrade products.


The tables below includes each of my friends’ ratings on how much they like the chocolate, how likely they are to purchase and both the positive and negative comments they made about each chocolate. Notice the comments some of them made about the companies not using pesticides and paying workers fairly.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 2.21.39 PM

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 2.22.03 PM

As seen in the visual representation of this same data below, Participant 1 liked the Organic chocolate and the Fairtrade chocolate more when these terms were described rather than being labeled as Organic or Fairtrade. However, they ranked the chocolate that was both Organic and Fairtrade higher when it was labeled this way rather than described. Participant 2 liked the chocolates as much or more when the terms Organic and Fairtrade were described; whereas, Participant 3 liked the chocolates more when they were just labeled as Organic or Fairtrade. The same patterns between the chocolates being labeled as Organic/Fairtrade or being described as Organic/Fairtrade were seen in my friends responses about their likelihood to purchase.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 2.21.54 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 2.21.46 PM

Each participant was asked to rank the chocolates. The table below shows the order of their preferences. Participant 1 ranked the chocolates that were Organic and both Fairtrade and Organic higher when they were labeled, but ranked the chocolate that was described as Fairtrade higher than the chocolate that was labeled Fairtrade. The second participant ranked the chocolates that were described as Fairtrade and Organic as the best three chocolates and ranked the chocolates labeled as Fairtrade and Organic as the worst three chocolates. Interestingly, the order in which he ranked the chocolates was reversed so that the chocolate he ranked the best was also the chocolate he ranked the worst and so on. Participant 3 ranked all the chocolates labeled as Fairtrade and Organic higher than all of the chocolates described as such. All of the participants ranked the 72% cacao chocolate as the best and the 78% cacao chocolate as the worst. It is important to note that none of the participants correctly ordered the chocolates, so that the same chocolates were next to each other in their order of preferences.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 2.32.10 PM


Not only did each participant rate the chocolates differently and give different comments when they tasted the same chocolate for a second time, but their order of preferences also suggests that the participants were not aware that they were having the same chocolate twice.

Although the participants were not aware of the hypothesis I was testing, they all made a comments about the descriptions at some point during the tasting. Participant 1 mentioned that not having pesticides made her feel like she was eating something more natural and healthy. When worker compensation was mentioned in describing the Fairtrade chocolate, participant 2 laughed and asked what compensation had to do with the chocolate. I responded that I was just using the company’s description. The second participant also asked what fair trade certified meant. I responded that I wasn’t sure either. The last participant did not enjoy most of the chocolate and during the last chocolate tasting mentioned that they would rather have better tasting chocolate than having workers paid fairly.

The order in which the chocolates were presented remained constant for each participant so that they’re results could be more directly compared. Although I don’t believe the order affected the second and third participants’ responses, as they did not seem to be correlated, I think it may have influenced participant 1. Participant 1 liked the chocolate more the first time they tasted it as compared to the second. I would be interested in running the tasting again with a different order to make sure that did not influence responses.

Results from participant 1 and participant 2 support my hypothesis that my friends would rank the chocolates higher when they were labeled rather than described as Organic and or Fairtrade. However, participant 2’s responses directly contradict my hypothesis as they ranked all of the chocolates described as Organic and or Fairtrade as the best three chocolates. Although the participants didn’t all have the same preference for it being labeled or described, each participant had a clear pattern in their own preferences of what they preferred. Furthermore, when I described the chocolate in terms of their practices, none of the participants indicated they understood that it meant they were Organic and or Fairtrade. These results suggest that consumers may have heard of the terms Organic and or Fairtrade before, but they don’t know what these terms denote in terms of the companies practices.

I originally hypothesized that participants would rank products labeled higher because of the moral satisfaction they would et from having something that was Organic and or Fairtrade. Although participant 2’s responses contract my hypothesis, their pattern in preferences may also suggest a similar lack of knowledge about the meaning of Organic and Fair Trade considering they asked the meaning of Fairtrade during a tasting. Because he didn’t know what these terms meant, he ranked the chocolates described with these practices as higher. He didn’t know what the terms meant, but he knew that not using pesticides and paying workers fairly was a good thing and may have also received the same moral satisfaction from these chocolates.

The increase in sales of both Organic and Fairtrade products have had great impacts on health, the environment and the economy of disadvantaged communities, but it is important for consumers to know what these terms mean. If more consumers have knowledge about what being Organic and being Fairtrade means, not only will more consumers purchase these products, but also consumers that already do will be apt to do so more frequently. Being socially conscious is a great trend in the food industry, but it is more important that consumers are doing it because they want to not because everyone else is doing it.

Works Cited

  1. Bratanova, B., CM Vauclair, N. Kervyn, S. Schumann, R. Wood, and O. Klein. “Savouring Morality. Moral Satisfaction Renders Food of Ethical Origin Subjectively Tastier.” Appetite (2015). Print.
  2. “Eight in Ten U.S. Parents Report They Purchase Organic Products.” PR Newswire. PR Newswire, 4 Apr. 2013. Web. 6 May 2015.
  3. “Fairtrade by the Numbers.” Fairtrade Foundation, 2011. Web. 6 May 2015.
  4. Martin, Carla. “Alternative Trade and virtuous localization/globalization.” Harvard University. , Cambridge. 6 Apr. 2015. Lecture.
  5. Sikavica, K., and J.-E. Pozner. “Paradise Sold: Resource Partitioning and the Organic Movement in the US Farming Industry.” Organization Studies (2013): 623-51. Print.
  6. Stampler, Laura. “Generation-O? Organic Food Sales Are on the Rise.” Time. Time, 13 May 2014. Web. 6 May 2015.

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